Episode 49.1 – A Mouthful of Commentary on “8-Bits of Wonder”

Bargle Nawdle Zouss!

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Blog 51 – 8-Bits of Wonder

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In many ways, our pixelated 49th episode, “8-Bits of Wonder”, represents what happens when concepts and ideas meet filming realities.  It also highlights what bringing an established concept into the show can do for the interest other people might have in it, as this is one of our most viewed and most mentioned episodes of the series.

If our backdrop looks unfamiliar to you, then that’s because this was from a time when I lived in the magical realm of Wilmington, North Carolina, a place that combined a slow southern lifestyle with the natural beach terrain and about a thousand separate Waffle Houses (just in case you missed the one the block before) in a Quixotic jumble that perplexes me to this day.  Oh, and I also did like six episodes of “One Tree Hill” when I was there.

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Larry, after years of bluster and professing how much he loved the beach, actually flew down for a visit, and it was impossible not to expect to film an episode while he was in town.  Naturally, though, we put off filming until almost the very last minute, didn’t decide on a plot until it was almost too late, and started filming as the sun was starting to set.  Even so, luck was with us and things came together quickly, mostly spurred on by Larry’s obsession of the week, Caitlin McKinstry a Super Mario Bros.-themed app that would play music from the various NES-era games.  It wasn’t long before the episode was born, one in which we hit on many of the classic functions of the game, including great family favorites like fire, greed and death.

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Our guest star for this episode is our good friend Caitlin McKinstry, who lived in Wilmington at the time and probably didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she agreed to be on the show.  We naturally gave Caitlin all of the action in this episode.  Who can forget that time where Caitlin looks at her phone (it might actually have been an iPod at this point)?  Or when she kneels down and asks questions?  Or when we see the back of her head in shot after shot?  Classic “Action” McKinstry.

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One of the things you might notice is that throughout this episode, it appears that I am running not only through an indeterminate length of space, but also quickly across the fulcrum of time, as the darkness hastily settles in as the episode moves along.  After filming in the residential community (full of people wondering why we were running through it), we drove a few blocks over to the campus of the University of Wilmington, North Carolina, where we searched for a flagpole and wondered what we were going to do about the fact that it was, at this point, nighttime.  Larry helpfully (?) offered up his new smartphone flashlight (he was proud of this) as a source of illumination, but we instead chose the athletic field (a game of baseball going on a few dozen yards over) for the final scene.

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One unanticipated problem was just how noisy the hum from these floodlights would be, like some lanky, giant, pole-shaped insect buzzing ominously overhead.  Because of this, we recorded both Caitlin’s line and Larry’s sobs after the fact, something that you’d NEVER KNOW from watching the actual video and hearing the depth of emotion from both of these performances.  I am grateful for the padding on the base of the pole, presumably put there in case someone is flung into it, as Larry didn’t hold much back when performing my last Mario Bros.-themed wish.

My brother-in-law suggested that we should have had a green “1up” mushroom fall from the sky, bringing me back to life at the end of the episode.  This is a fantastic suggestion, and one that we could consider for an alternate ending.  All you have to do is make it up in your head and voilà!  It exists!  We’re not going to hold your hand here, people.

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Our “NO!” ending features Larry’s remorse over the loss of his long, professional wrestler-like hair.  You may ask yourself, if Larry was so sad over having to cut his hair, in some Samson-esque folly, why didn’t he just decide to keep it, or why hasn’t he chosen to grow it back in the intervening years between now and when this episode was filmed, more than four years ago?  The answers to this question are “it’s complicated”, “mind your own business”, “instead look at this Goonies shirt”, and “his girlfriend made him do it”.

This is the first episode in the long running (…) season three of Franks and Beans.  Did you get how I just said “running”?  I did that on purpose.  Because the Franks and Beans blog is full of deep meaning.  Also, Larry’s girlfriend made him cut his hair.

Blog 43 – Chariots of Mire

Chariots of Mire screenshotIn nine years, I will be 41 years old.  Perhaps at that time, a time at which I will most certainly be evaluating my life (41 seems to be a good age to do that, as opposed to 32, when I pay attention to nothing except basic emotions like hungry and sad), I will come back to SuperYouTube and watch Franks and Beans episode 41, “Chariots of Mire”.  I wonder what type of reaction I will have to this, an episode that features a number of common F&B tropes.  Perhaps I will remark at the already dated cultural references, or note the effort we made for special effects.  Maybe I’ll look back and say, hey, I still have a little bit of hair here, and punch a window.

In any case, “Chariots of Mire” does in fact show off some of the best of Franks and Beans.  If you watch this episode and hate it, well, then chances are you might not like too many other episodes.  Except for “Mailbag/Bloopers” or “The Sandwich”, which lots of people like.  Whatever.  What I’m trying to say is that this episode of the show features a lot of things that I like: physical comedy, irreverence, quick timing and callbacks to previous jokes.  And shouting.

Let’s tackle the first topic.  Did you see what I did there?  I used the word “tackle” in reference to a scene in which I bowl over a wagon full of, well, leaves and things.  Wow.  In filming this, I learned that it is really hard to purposely fall over things.  This is why, no matter how many times we tried (and we did several takes), I still braced myself before ultimately tumbling over.

Our music for this episode is, of course, the classic “Chariots of Fire”, which has been used for comedic effect to the point that it’s almost certainly used for that purpose more than it is in a serious manner.  It’s also very tough to find without a laugh track when you’re searching the Internet for a sample.  Music tends to add something intangible to a video, something that can’t be recreated with just ambient sound, and this is an extreme example of it.  And it gave me the opportunity to add in two more Franks and Beans favorites: word parodies and running.  I really do run a lot in this show.

Larry in bed, and the implication that he sleeps fully clothed (and later, the line “let’s go!”), is a reference to our sort-of popular (it depends on how you define “popular”) first episode, “High School”.  The reference to Avril Lavigne was about as random as they come…I wanted to think of a pseudo-celebrity that neither Larry nor I particularly liked, and her name was one of the few I thought up and was considering.  Plus “Avril Lavigne” sounds funny to say.  Also, here’s a funny “Weird Al” Yankovic video featuring Ms. Lavigne:

I enjoy that this episode, in contrast to basically everything before or after, features a fairly honest critique of Avril Lavigne.  She wasn’t really relevant at the time we filmed this episode, and she REALLY isn’t relevant now, but seriously, what was up with her image?  She’s a preppy blonde Canadian (hi, Lauren) who suddenly pains her fingernails black and wears socks on her arms and now she’s punk?  Come on, Michael.

The Oreo callback is one of my favorite sequences of the entire show.  “Hey, last cookie!” is a fairly generic line, but the callback to the “Chariots” music, the quick pace and Larry’s disinterested reply really makes is work for me.

Our “NO!” ending is a pretty good one, if you can make out what the heck I’m saying.  Basically, Larry is waking people up, and I’m not happy about it.  It may not seem like much, but I do get to say the line “for crap’s sake!”, which makes it all worth while.

Blog 27 – The Long Run

Originally Published 3.29.09

I’m posting this from an airport in Phoenix.  It feels quite business-like.  This is how dedicated I am, people!

If you never knew just how self-referential Franks and Beans could get, just watch the dramatic reenactment of our very first episode in this tale of new beginnings, this springtime flower that is episode 25, “The Long Run”.  In addition to sounding like a mix between a Bob Hope road movie and an Ernest Hemingway novel, this episode asks some underlying questions that “High School” left tantalizingly unanswered.  Or perhaps you never asked those questions and find my assumptions unbecoming.  Either way, dammit, I’ve got a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it.

“The Long Run” obviously has its origins in the beginning of the series; in many ways Larry and I saw this as a symbolic nod in the direction of everything that our self-proclaimed first season had become.  As the first episode in our second season (why we chose this as our relaunching point is anyone’s guess), this episode is more than just an extended version of “High School’s” signature opening scene, but it still serves as a reminder of what came before.

Thinking back to the show’s first few days, I can remember just what I had planned for the series.  The first episode, complete with character development and an easy-to-follow storyline, would be followed by a second in which the main plot – trying to get back into high school in order to reclaim some long-lost glory – would be furthered by new jokes and an expanding cast.  I had plans to film in the actual high school of record (the one we drove to and quickly from in the first episode), and even a lengthy joke where Larry would point out how my ever-encroaching hair loss would make it difficult for me to pass as the average student (“I’ll wear a hat!” would have been my well planned reply).

As it turned out, putting together something of that magnitude would have been next to impossible to accomplish.  If nothing else, two guys in their mid-to-late twenties walking around a high school with a video camera was sure to arouse some suspicion.  And beyond that, this plan might have netted us…what, five episodes?  A half dozen if we were lucky?  No, the evolution of Franks and Beans into what it is now was quick and necessary.  We do have recurring characters and plotlines, but by and large, the show is propelled by the “joke of the week” mentality.

“The Long Run”, in some subversive way, is the expression of that mentality in relation to the show’s original intentions.  Here I am, running with an apparent goal in mind, determined to accomplish whatever I’ve set out to do, when all of a sudden I get flattened by a car.  This IS the evolution of Franks and Beans.  Do you get it?!  Is it funny?!  I hope so.

Other than being a representation of the show in general, “The Long Run” discusses some other questions that I’ve had since the first episode aired roughly fourteen months ago.  In “High School”, much of the opening sequence is simply my character running as fast as he could.  I think you could look at this in one of two ways – either what I had to tell Larry was so important that I couldn’t stop for anything, or this is how I arrived every time I decided to visit.  The second option is, I think, the funnier of the two in a physical sort of way, and as such I had plans of mentioning my character’s exhaustive sprints in every few episodes – showing me running up the driveway or bursting in the door or what have you.  Would I have had an important announcement or a new impossible challenge with every entrance?  It’s possible, but as with anything, the possibilities were limited.  So if nothing else, this episode again begs the question, “why does he run like that?!”  Not answering it in episode 25 makes it all the better, I think.

Another connection I wanted to make, at least at first, was the importance of my message in relation to the distance I traveled.  I ran for about ten seconds in the first episode with news that I thought would be life changing.  What kind of message would I have if I then extended my journey by as much as I did?  I wanted to raise expectations – the longer I ran the more pressing the question would be.  And then it ends with a solution that is not at all satisfying, but at the same time the only one possible.   An ending as abrupt as my apparent death hopefully had the desired effect: unexpected surprise.  I wanted the episode to be all buildup and just a tiny bit of solution, which hopefully it was.

As the shots in the episode progressed, we see a number of different occurrences that might have the propensity to slip on by: the dog that decided to chase me the entire length of its property; the reality shot where Larry chugs on after me down the road; the many times I regretted eating right before I decided to undertake this; the similarity of the last few shots with the opening of “High School”; Larry’s masterful editing job in making all of the scenes match up even though some were filmed at different times of day.

If you’re wondering why we never actually see me getting hit by Larry in his Jeep, it’s because that faking something like that is HARD!  When it came down to it, out biggest obstacle was the slant of the road, followed closely by the fact that concrete is hard and my body is covered almost entirely by soft pink flesh.  My momentum would carry me downhill to the point where it would be almost impossible to stop myself and fall backwards at the rate the Jeep was traveling.  If we had more time (all of our episodes are filmed on a relatively tight schedule), I would have extended the running even more until we came to a more level piece of ground.  Even so, the solution to our problems was probably the most effective way to end the episode – cut it just a little short and leave the obvious to the imagination.  That way the physical restrictions don’t have a chance to overshadow the joke.

I understand that “The Long Run” isn’t going to be the episode that puts Franks and Beans on the map, but it was satisfying from a creator’s standpoint, if nothing else.  It tied our first season in with our ongoing second, and it brought back some more of the absurdities from our much-beloved pilot episode.  Why does Jeff do all of that running in “High School”?  Well, now we’ll never know.  Because he’s dead.